Great Victoria Street railway station opens … back in 1995 [ENV/13/4/6A] #20yearrule

This August, Translink re-advertised programme manager roles to oversee the new Belfast Transport Hub which will replace the Europa Bus Centre and Great Victoria Street railway station.

There’s a sense of déjà vu, as 25-30 years ago, a similar advert was probably published in the job news section of local newspapers.

A pink file full of government papers released yesterday and free to view in the Public Records Office  – you can read a sample in the attached PDF of ENV/13/4/6A – marked the opening of the last new Great Victoria Street station on 30 September 1995, itself resurrecting a transport terminus which had been shut in 1976 with the opening of the optimistically-named Central Station.

History shows a pattern of building and demolition on the Great Victoria Street site since it opened 180 years ago on 12 August 1839 to support the first train service between Belfast and Lisburn. The Great Northern building “with its elegant canopied forecourt” arrived in 1848, the vision of Ulster Railway Company engineer John Godwin. (Moira Station is likely to be the earliest surviving example of his work across the rail estate.)

The thick file contains multiple drafts of the speech to be delivered by Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew at the official opening ceremony (five and a half weeks after passengers – like me, back then a university student – started to embark and disembark).

There’s not much in Mayhew’s draft speech that couldn’t be copy and pasted into the address drafted for a future SoS to read out in 2023 or thereabouts. It noted that the new station had created “the first inter-modal transport hub in Belfast [with] a fully developed interchange between bus and rail”.

(Planners working on the new 21st century £208m transport hub may want to revisit how the Glider routes can be best integrated into their scheme, which will be set much further back from Great Victoria Street and lengthen the number of steps needed to interchange between modes. It’s going to be a particular inter-modal challenge for connecting passengers with mobility problems.)

Back in 1995, the briefing note included a deflection line to take if questions were asked about why Dublin trains would continue to arrive and depart at Central Station.

NI Railways will continue to operate cross-border services from Central Station where secure long-term car parking and suitable passenger facilities (eg catering) are located. NI Railways will keep this position under review in the light of demand from its passengers.

The document also noted that “provision (by way of foundations and associated work) has been made to extend [GVS] platform lengths at some time in the future, when the need is established.”

100 guests were invited to the official opening, including just a handful from Sandy Row and Donegall Road residents’ associations. A mistake that hopefully won’t be repeated in 2023 …

Check out Slugger’s further coverage of the official papers released yesterday.


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